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Do you hate self-service checkouts?

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The self-service checkout is the Marmite of the shopping world. Some of you love them for their convenience and speed, others hate them for their continuous inhuman errors.

Self-service checkouts first infiltrated our supermarkets in the 90s, but now the often unreliable scanners have veritably rammed our local stores with their robotic voices.

They’re meant to offer convenience to customers, but it’s clear that their main purpose is to reduce supermarket staff, leading to valuable savings.

Most of us hate self-service checkouts

Well, three quarters of us supposedly hate these checkouts, as found in a survey by discount website MyVoucherCodes.co.uk. And although this website would like us to do our shopping online, the results aren’t terribly surprising – a previous poll put Brit dissatisfaction with the checkouts at around half.

Not only do many of us hate self-service checkouts, but they’re also our most hated thing about supermarkets. Dawdling customers and unhelpful staff aren’t too far behind. Seven in ten find the machines infuriating, with many wanting the scanners to be removed altogether.

Which might be a little over the top – the checkouts can speed up the supermarket experience. And although building up the confidence to use them is sometimes hard, once you’ve got the hang of them, you’ll feel like you’re in charge of your own shopping destiny.

‘Unexpected item in the bagging area’

But then you hear those hellish words sent to us by a demonic, robotic woman – ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’. I’ll give you an unexpected item in your bagging area!

You repeatedly drop that packet of nuts on the scales – but to the self-service checkout, your nuts don’t exist. This leaves you aimlessly looking for an overworked member of staff to help you as the queue builds up behind.

Three quarters of those polled said they’d had similar experiences – leading four in ten to stop using them altogether. Sarah Dennis from Which? Home had these words for self-service checkouts:

“Self-service may seem like a good idea in theory, but in my experience they can often be more inconvenient than an unsmiling checkout assistant, where at least there’s some human interaction.”

But the simple fact is – if you want to avoid dawdling customers and unhelpful staff, the self-service checkout may be your best option, even if they often seem like they have a vendetta against you. What’s your experience of self-service checkouts? Love ’em or hate ’em?

Do you hate supermarket self-service checkouts?

Yes, they're worse than unsmiling checkout assistants. (38%, 390 Votes)

No, they're speedy and convenient. (31%, 327 Votes)

Yes, I find them difficult to use. (24%, 250 Votes)

I don't know, I've never used one. (7%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,040

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Our survey says – self-service checkouts suck.

Rowland Davies says:
9 August 2010

Our Waitrose introduced self scanners ages ago and I find them very convenient and have not noticed large numbers of people boycotting them whichis what you would expect if they were such rubbish as the survey suggests. They also alert you to special offers–very useful.

Are those who moan simply incapable of getting their heads around them?

I do not use self scanners – they are a pain to use if you have a complete large trolley full of goods as I always have – There are a number if items like grapefruit do not register anyway.- so they are a waste of time. and completely impersonal .

My problem is my Salisburys now only ever has a maximum of *one* human teller – so there is always a long queue – and – some people with one or two items want to jump *that” queue.”to save them time!”

I’m really heartened by all these comments: now I know that I am not alone!
My issues are as follows:
1) level of service when machine can’t cope is often diabolical – hardly surprising really: if you had just lost your job as a checkout operator, been re-deployed (if you were very lucky and not made redundant completely as an assistant on the self-serve, knowing that if the system worked really well your job there would go too, would you really offer your best service? I know I wouldn’t!
2) I’m wondering if they contravene the Disability Discrimination Act since they cannot possibly operate with cards which don’t have a PIN – which it is everyone’s right to have if they wish but which are issued especially to people with dexterity and / or sight disabilities. My experience (I have a sight disability and a signature card) is that the grumpy assistants don’t actually know how to get the machine to accept these and either act miserable and void the sale then try it 2 or 3 more times, unsuccessfully, or else that they go straight away to get a supervisor. Meanwhile the queue grows and grows.

All in all, though, the Waitrose system sounds like it is an exception to the issue of job losses, but does it work with signature cards?

ashley says:
1 September 2010

Two points on sainsburys self service
Firstly the bagging area is too small. They need to make it larger or allow you to remove a bag o nce full without system falling over and having hissy fits.fz
Secondly, we’re encouraged to be green and reuse bags but when they’re put into bagging area seems to automatically generate the dreaded “unexpected item in bagging area”.
come on sainsburys with a little thought and effort could be so much better!

Johnboy says:
3 February 2011

I refuse to use them. I go to Tescos to shop not work!

I thought I’d add a comment about Sainsburys appalling system. I usually shop once a week – so have a number of bags – so I use a trolley and pay via a human – though I’m urged all the time to use the Self service.

Yesterday – I forgot the TV paper after I had queued and paid as usual (the magazine rack is by the EXIT after the tills) – so duly went to use the self service – I was told unceremoniously “I couldn’t use a trolley in the self service area” So how the devil does an elderly person with a number of bags cope anyway? I am getting to the stage of changing my supermarket because of Sainsburys poor stock control and customer service. The only reason I keep using them is because their fruit is good – but that has changed drastically for the worse recently too.

I wish you luck in finding a better supermarket, Richard. Price fixing is illegal but I get the impression that the supermarket chains must be working together to lower our expectations of customer service. The widespread introduction of self-service checkouts is just one example.

Wavechange – There is a “better” Supermarket – it’s called Morrisons – there are far more human tellers – a wider range of items – it even has free parking. But I had (note the tense) a sense of loyalty to Sainsburys after using it for over 30 years. But the standard of service, quality and quantity of goods stocked in Sainsburys has plummeted in the last few years. So I leave weekly disappointed with the overall service I now get. Yesterday was the last straw.

Tesco closes all its normal checkouts at 11pm at their local store, so there is no option other than to use their self-service checkouts. Trying to use my own bag causes the well known problem of ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’. Someone comes to help and with luck they scan the items in my basket.

If I am going to work for Tesco then I deserve a discount.

Robert says:
14 October 2011

I hear lots of comments from customers everyday (I work on self service in Tesco) good and bad ones, all I will say on the subject is, if every customer had the same training as me, self service would be a more pleasant experience for the customer! Often I hear “unidentified item” coupled with the f word. I know why it is happening and I can explain it to the customer but often it is taken as an insult to their intelligence or they are in a bad mood and just want to lash out at something. Good luck πŸ™‚

There is no excuse for customers to be rude to staff though my patience is sometimes severely tested in Tesco stores.

Your suggestion that customers need training is – I respectfully suggest – nonsense. If it is not obvious how to use self-service checkouts in a supermarket there is something seriously wrong. Get someone competent to design the equipment, or better still get rid of the equipment and provide proper customer service.

On numerous occasions I have heard Tesco employees criticising the self-service checkouts, so it is hardly surprising that some customers are not too happy.

Robert says:
14 October 2011

One more thing that makes me laugh, people swear at the self service till or wave me over and say something like this piece of sh0!t won’t let me (enter problem) BUT it tells you exactly what to do on the screen and I’m not talking about the “unexpected item” problem. I can’t tell customers to look at the screen because they take offence to it! Instead I have to explain exactly what’s on the screen to them in a polite unsarcastic voice.

My dream shopping experience: A member of staff greets us as we approach the store and offers a clean battery-powered trolley with dry handles; he has already put a pound in the slot so I don’t have to go to customer sevice with the scrapings from my pocket. After a leisurely tour of the shop – where all commodities are arranged in alphabetical order or price order – we arrive at the checkout line. The amount we spend on food and provisions each week entitles us to a relaxing rest on a sofa with a free cappucino and a magazine [cigars have been withdrawn] while somebody takes our trolley and does it all for us, packing it properly, keeping the different types of shopping separate, and putting it all in a nice box or two. The bill is presented in an attractive wallet [together with an after-dinner mint perhaps] and I administer the plastic rites. They steer the trolley to the car for us because we are not so good at weightlifting nowadays and need every little bit of help. Waving us goodbye as they dispose of the trolley they reflect on what happy satisfied customers we are and how rewarding it is to be in the service of such a progressive company. Oh bagger! That was just a dream!

Pedro says:
31 October 2011

Anything which makes life quicker and easier is a good thing? That’s why the world is going down the swannie. Things that make life easier now may make it harder in the long run. Credit makes life easier in the short term for example. As the machines improve and us monkeys learn how to use them, why on Earth would supermarkets continue to employ staff? I reckon human beings should attempt to use their brains so I and my kids don’t have to live with the consequences of their ignorance. If those who work in base industry are not employed then how will there ever be enough tax revenue to pay private sector workers. These machines (and others which replace labour) could be economically catastrophic. But hey its cool as long as they’re convenient….right!?

Pedro says:
31 October 2011

I would like it if the debate moved away from are they convenient are they a pain? I think someone pointed out earlier about putting checkout people out of work. As the technology improves and ‘we’ get trained in how to use them there will be no reason to employ anyone other than shelf stackers and security guards (Until their are machines to do their jobs too). You’ve probably already drove to the supermarket in a car built by machines and listened to music on you ipod which you downloaded from the interned instead of bought on CD from HMV or wherever. Machines replacing people is a danger to us all even those of us who do jobs that machines never could. How does a nurse or a social worker get paid when there is hardly any tax revenue in the national pot because all the base industry private sector workers have been replaced by machines which don’t pay tax? So in answer to an earlier statement ‘if it makes life easier and quicker it’s a good thing’ Well…no actually! The world is nowhere near that simple unfortunately! Please think deeper than your immediate convenience! So my kids and their kids don’t have to live with the ramifications of today’s adults ignorance! If progress doesn’t serve the greater good, then whats the use of progress?

Gilbert Bruce says:
27 December 2012

Grumpy human nature — A number oΖ’ people blame the machine for giving a result that they do not expect even if they have pressed the wrong keys. It is hard to teach old dogs new tricks—-The younger generation will sail through the checkouts and find it a pleasure. In the meantime our local Tesco staff jump to assist self-service customers if required.

colin styles says:
4 April 2013

Sainsbury self service checkout-scanned two items put in own bag in bagging area-ok-scanned three
more items”unauthorised item in bagging area” shouted twice security guard comes over and asks the store attendant how many times the unauthorised had happened she told him twice.I felt like a criminal but had done nothing wrong. never again!

Earl says:
9 August 2013

In general, quite happy to use them when buying a small number of items, in particular just one or two, to get through the checkout fast.

The problem is Asda are starting to “force” customers to use them by having virtually no regular checkouts available now so you see a long queue even with a mediumly large basket. They even have some self-service checkouts now then for people with trolleys.

My biggest issue with them is scanning multiple numbers of the same item. So yesterday I bought 6 red grapefruits, put them onto the weighing area together, selected the item and it asked how many so I entered 6.

When I tried moving them to the bagging area, I couldn’t move them all in one go, and it started giving me “unexpected item”. The system normally detects by weight, so it should know the weight of the items I am moving and know when I have completed the move. I should possibly have put them all into a small bag first to weigh them together so I could move them as a whole.

In any case, when it happened to me a second time I just got impatient and left the store without any of the items I had intended to buy.

tony hall says:
24 May 2014

I’m sure Morrisons are trying to introduce even more self serve tils as their manned tills are manned by the slowest doziest staff I’ve ever come across(Chorlton Manchester) A miserable experience. Try using the self serve and it doesnt like your 5p’s. Useless!

catherine birch says:
20 January 2015

I`m glad to see it`s not just me that has a problem with these things. If I try to buy more than one item on them, they malfunction & I have to call an assistant. I wish that stores would get rid of them!

I unable to vote because there responses are too positive or negative.

The automatic checkout has useful roles. Once how to use them is learnt, which differs between store companies, they are very useful for smaller shopping. For example, a few magazines in WH Smiths is almost instant, our local rarely has a queue for the S-S checkouts.

On the other hand, despite the waiting in queues in Marks and Spencers, and the unhelpful staff who are very over worked trying to control the queue, correct mistakes, type in unreadable bar codes etc. they are still much quicker than the conventional tills with their long queues and purchasers who have no regard for other users.

And then there is the major fortnightly shop in Tesco. With my Lady we are a well oiled machine unloading and loading. The checkout has to be an attended one, Teso mechanical till staff are excellent. And there are no queues, unloading is frequently the part of the process which holds up the till. It would take three times as long to use their S-S tills, with their queues and lack of space.

There is a place for the S-S till, but not when two trolley loads are being purchased.

People don’t read the screen, if they did they would be able to work them. Also if people don’t like them don’t use them. I work on them and I don’t have a problem. READ THE SCREEN. ..

I have never been through one of these job stealing robots without a problem and frequently end up in a rage, abandoning my shopping and leaving the store empty handed. If it is true that half of us are infuriated by these machines, then this must happen several times a day, and sombody has to put all the shopping items back on the shelves. So why dont they put that person on a till. For the record I would rather join a long queue and be served by a human.